News & Politics

Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder Signs Laws Banning Female Genital Mutilation

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder speaks during the combined Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce and Cornerstone Alliance 2017 Business Recognition breakfast Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP)

On Tuesday, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation outlawing female genital mutilation (FGM). The laws make the brutal practice a state felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, both for doctors who perform it and parents who transport a child to undergo the surgery.

“Those who commit these horrendous crimes should be held accountable for their actions, and these bills stiffen the penalties for offenders while providing additional support to victims,” Snyder said in a statement. “This legislation is an important step toward eliminating this despicable practice in Michigan while empowering victims to find healing and justice.”

In addition to creating criminal penalties for female genital mutilation, the bill package provides sanctions against medical licensees who engage in the practice and requires increased public education surrounding the topic.

Genital mutilation of girls usually involves removing all or part of the clitoris, removing most of the pleasure of sexual intercourse and often rendering it painful for a woman. The practice is banned by several international treaties but remains a common cultural or religious practice in many African countries, notably Somalia, Sudan, and Egypt.

In most of those countries, Muslims commit the practice more than Christians, but Christians and animists also engage in it. Practitioners believe the practice will cut down on sexual immorality, but the damage done to these girls and women is nothing short of tragic. The worst country for FGM is Somalia, where a 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) report found 98 percent of women suffer the barbaric practice.

The practice has increased in the midwest, as the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington has the largest amount of Somalis living in America. There are far fewer Somali immigrants in Michigan, but there are still nearly 300 of them. In the wake of increased immigration, cases of FGM have increased in Britain.

The package of bills was spurred on by the case of an emergency room physician, Jumana Nagarwala, who was charged in April for performing genital mutilation on two 7-year-old girls at a suburban Detroit medical clinic, Reuters reported.

Nagarwala has been arrested on federal charges, along with another doctor and his wife who ran the clinic. This case is believed to be the first U.S. criminal prosecution of its kind. The three defendants could face prison terms of up to five years if convicted.

The defendants are members of a small sect of Indian Muslims known as Dawoodi Bohra, and have pleaded not guilty. Shannon Smith, Nagarwala’s attorney, has argued her client used a “scaper” on the girls to perform a religious ritual, but insisted her client did not cut them.

The practice was outlawed in the U.S. in 1996, but Michigan’s laws are now tougher than federal regulations. Before Tuesday, 25 states had laws against the practice. The WHO has estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, which can cause lasting health problems.

Snyder’s laws give the lie to a suggestion made in the popular Hulu show The Handmaid’s Tale. In that show, a government which twisted Christianity for power used FGM against lesbian women. Liberals have dressed like handmaids as a reference to the show, protesting pro-life Republican legislation.

But in Michigan, a pro-life Republican has emphatically denounced FGM, imposing hefty penalties on those who would practice it. Female genital mutilation is a barbaric practice opposed by all those who believe in women’s rights and women’s health, Republican and Democrat alike.